Hiring Managers have a tough job, especially during a down economy when there’s an overflow of applicants. A good friend and also a core employee at a major San Francisco foundation told me, of all the cover letters and resumes that she received for one job opening, she could only interview less than 3% of the prospects, with a mere 1% advancing to the second round. That math is staggering. A bulk of those hopefuls were of course switching careers, or otherwise simply reaching. Not a match at all, however giving it a “shot” anyway – utilizing the shotgun method of job seeking that is. With hundreds to thousands vying for the same position, you deserve to throw yourself a party if you get a phone call at all. And when you do, let’s say everything goes right. You successfully convey that you are personable, industrious, resourceful, and a team player. Then, there’s the “but”. The one big but even Sir Mix-A-Lot wouldn’t like – But you’re overqualified.
Oh no. Big mistake, Hiring Managers… Big mistake. You’re passing up a gold mine – the rare instance when top talent is seeking YOU out instead of the other way around. Maybe if it’s opposite day at the office (or if you’re highly interested in mediocrity), but when else is overqualification good cause for disqualification? Not so when you’re hiring a babysitter, a doctor, or an electrician. Imagine sending away an overqualified spouse, an adviser, or confidant. How about telling an accountant, “No, thanks. We’d prefer someone a little bit less competent in record keeping and current tax laws.”? The usual – and bogus – logic is: They’ll require too much salary, or they’ll get bored, or they’ll know more than me, or they’ll leave when they have a chance. OK… Ahem, lacking positive self-image are we? These excuses are easy to dismantle so here we go.
What stories are there of hiring overqualified persons resulting in triumph? Plenty. But right now, I’ll offer one that may boggle your mind. According to Malcolm Gladwell, one of the most intellectually engaging writers of our time, and his book, Outliers: The Story of Success, the best year to be born in the 20th century is 1935. Particularly in New York City. Among the factors, people sharing this birth year had the blessing of – wait for it – the Great Depression! Highly educated people couldn’t find work in the private sector. We’re talking PhDs in Mathematics, people who may have otherwise worked in big business, science, or engineering. So, instead, these first-rate scholars found gainful employment as – get this – teachers at public schools. Consider the result. For once, everyday youngsters regardless of affluence were able to access the top-notch education they each deserved. These teachers worked for lean pay and, contrary to the fictitious worst-case scenarios, still delivered on excellence, consequently producing what was arguably the most successful generation of the century.
Rather than conjuring the potential problems, try asking yourself, “What’s the best that can happen?” Exceptional thinking yields exceptional results. When you venture beyond the wee and petty details, a picture of extraordinary greatness is allowed to come into focus. Take a moment right now to look at the people and at the field that your organization has declared to serve, and imagine how your recruiting choices could make a profound impact on that landscape – maybe even on the 21st century! Go on, dream big.